This is my Dreamcast Retrospective where I remember the system itself and the games released for it. I first heard about the Dreamcast when it was first announced for Japan by reading gaming news sites in 1998. At the time, Sega’s official site was bare, with only an online forum where people could post and meet other Sega fans. I signed up in 1998 and read threads of people saying how fantastic the Dreamcast would be and everyone couldn’t wait for the US release.
I remember seeing empty Dreamcast boxes at my local video game store to promote the upcoming release. The release date? I’ll never forget it. September 9th, 1999.
9.9.99 Oh yeah, Sega had a good thing going. Let’s kick off this Dreamcast Retrospective by asking the important question.
Why the Dreamcast?
Just what was it that made me want a Dreamcast so much?
The more I read about it, the more I knew I would fall in love with it.
I saw a teaser for Sonic Adventure that was posted online and was blown away. I absolutely loved the classic Genesis/Megadrive Sonic games. The short amount of footage I saw in this video was enough to make me anxious to play the final game. I watched that video so many times in anticipation for the U.S. release.
After searching, I finally found the old video on YouTube. It may not look like much now, but at the time it was AMAZING. Sonic in 3D, boy I couldn’t have been more excited.
Sonic Adventure Dreamcast Promo:
The Dreamcast was the most powerful game console at the time, I marveled at its capabilities. It featured a 200 MHz processor, more RAM than the Playstation and Nintendo 64, and used a GD-Rom drive that stored 1 GB of data, which is roughly twice the amount of a CD. This made the graphics on the N64 and Playstation look very dated. Games on the Dreamcast always had the best looking textures and everything was always round instead of jagged. I felt more immersed in the games than ever before! To this day, I still believe the graphics on the system looked smoother than on the Playstation 2.
On Launch Day
9.9.99. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe I went with my Dad after school to EB Games to pick up my reserved system. I can’t put into words the amount of emotion that was flowing through my entire body that day. As I’ve grown older, there have been less and less gaming consoles and games that made me so excited the way Dreamcast and its games did.
And so I came home with my Sega Dreamcast and a copy of Sonic Adventure. I plugged everything in and popped in the Sonic Adventure disc. I started playing through the first level (Emerald Coast). It was everything I imagined a 3D Sonic game could be.
The Dreamcast had a feature built-in that no other console ever had before. A 56k modem! Sure other consoles maybe had add-ons, but no other company was as bold and daring as Sega. The Dreamcast was released with a 56k modem to promote online gaming to console gamers, an activity that was mostly reserved for PC Gamers at the time. Looking back, this was such a radical idea and paved the way for what gamers now take for granted with XBox Live and other online services for gaming consoles. The Dreamcast was truly ahead of its time.
Bundled inside every Dreamcast box was also a web browser on a disc. Yes! The Dreamcast had a web browser! When I bought my Dreamcast, my computer was in separate room next to my parents’ bedroom. At night I was unable to go use the computer for fear of waking up them up. The idea that I could access websites on my television was just so amazing. I would surf the web at night feeling mighty that I could do it without a traditional computer. I remember Sega having an exclusive website where only people using the Dreamcast browser could download content onto their memory cards!
It doesn’t look like much by today’s standards, but imagine looking at the site on a TV. It was really cool and felt special because it was a website for Dreamcast owners.
Speaking of memory cards, the Dreamcast had a pretty interesting one. Known as a VMU (Virtual Memory Unit), the Dreamcast memory card had a tiny screen and some buttons for playing mini games. When the VMU was inserted into a controller, it displayed visual information relevant to whatever game a person was playing.
Sonic Adventure had a special mini game that allowed players to transfer their chao pets to the VMU and train/grow them when not playing the game. Sega didn’t stop there. VMUs could connect with each other! I remember taking my VMU to school one day and connecting it with a classmate’s. I was deathly afraid a teacher might see it and take my VMU away, so after I traded data with my friend, I immediately hid it back in my bag. The VMU wasn’t just a toy, it was also memory card that held game data containing hours of game time!
Of course, a gaming console is defined by its games. The Dreamcast featured some of the best and most innovative games ever developed by Sega. All of the games mentioned here are ones I actually played or owned.
US Release Date: September 9, 1999
This game defined the Dreamcast. Everyone was hesitant about the system due to the failure of the Sega Saturn. This was also the game I looked forward to the most. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I started the game. Sonic was now in 3D! I really liked the overworld that connected you with the levels themselves. Just run around a city with Sonic or hop on a train to another area and try to find where to go next. Most of the levels in Sonic Adventure were really enjoyable. Sega successfully brought Sonic from 2D into 3D, just as Nintendo had done with Mario 64.
I still think the game is good, but I want to nitpick a bit. The developer Sonic Team tried doing something different by allowing players to play as multiple characters. Sonic wasn’t the only character in this game. Players could choose from Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Big the Cat, Amy, or E-102. Although it was a pretty big change from previous Sonic games, I don’t think it made the game more fun. I wanted to play as Sonic, not other characters that are slow and have completely different attacks. Big the Cat was probably the most frustrating to play. I didn’t want to sit around and do fishing mini-games.
Trivia: Yuji Naka (Creator of Sonic) took offense that players didn’t like Big and so in Sonic Adventure 2, Big was not playable, but was put in cut scenes to tease the players!
A really unique feature of Sonic Adventure was Internet Mode. Yes, it had a choice at the start menu called “Internet”. It used the built-in 56k modem of the Dreamcast to connect to the Internet. When I first tried this, I was so amazed. Imagine, a game on a gaming console, having its own special place on the Internet!
After my Dreamcast connected to the Internet, I was shown a welcome message with a picture of Sonic and Knuckles. The page even loaded a sound effect from the disc to enhance the experience. I remember a Dreamcast launch party download available from the website. It changed the Station Square adventure field to include Dreamcast logos and balloons on street posts. There were also unlockable theme downloads as well.
My favorite was the Christmas theme. It created a Christmas tree in the middle of Station Square. However, the big surprise was when Sonic got close to the tree. Music from a Sega Saturn game started to play. It was clever of Sonic Team to include secret music tracks on the game disc that could only be unlocked by these events!
I think the very last update for the Sonic Adventure website was the year 2000 celebration event. Downloading this special file created a giant spinning gold ring in the center of Station Square.
Sonic Adventure is my favorite 3D Sonic game, and will most likely stay that way, looking at what Sega has been doing with the franchise.
US Release Date: September 9, 1999
I remember being in… I guess it was Wal-Mart with my grandmother when she offered to buy me a game. I looked at the games behind the locked glass cabinet. The two choices I looked at were Marvel VS Capcom and Hydro Thunder. I’m sure some people would love to smack me for not choosing Marvel VS Capcom, but I chose Hydro Thunder. I remember playing the Arcade version with one of my best friends and how much fun it had been. My grandmother ended up buying me Hydro Thunder and the rest was history!
Hydro Thunder is a really casual and fun boat-racing game. It was easy to pick up play for anyone, but true players knew the secret shortcuts.
Players started off with 3 boats to choose from and 3 tracks. The more players raced and won, another difficulty level opened up along with new tracks and boats. I had countless hours of fun playing this game with my friends. The game is a close port of the Arcade, so nothing extra was added. This is the only negative about the game. It is a straight port of an arcade game with no extras, but it’s really fun to play.
US Release Date: January 24 2000
What can I say, Crazy Taxi was one of those games where I wanted to completely ignore the main part of the game and just drive around. Sure, occasionally I would follow the game’s rules and bring passengers to their destinations, but they usually complained about something. I think many people played Crazy Taxi the way I did. One of my friends had this game and also a Steering Wheel and driving pedals. I would want nothing more than to just sit there and pretend as if I was driving somewhere on a mission. Well, technically, I guess I was on a mission, deliver the passenger!
This game is a quick Arcade game that is pretty fun. I think the 3D versions of Grand Theft Auto ended up satisfying my urge to drive around places and not necessarily play the main game.
Dead or Alive 2
US Release Date: February 29, 2000
My memory fails me as to how exactly I discovered this game. I’m not sure if it was a demo or seeing it mentioned on gaming websites. One thing is for sure: I was attracted to its spectacular visuals. I was never a big fan of fighting games, but I could not ignore a game that looked like someone stole Pixar’s studio computers and created a fighting game.
I do remember going to EB Games to buy DOA2 and having an employee harass me to buy a used copy for $5 cheaper than a retail one. For some reason, I didn’t want to buy a used copy. I wanted MY copy, an unopened and uncorrupted copy! Maybe I was foolish or maybe I didn’t want to give that employee the satisfaction, so I bought a new copy.
I eventually learned the fighting system in Dead or Alive 2 and became pretty good at it! My favorite feature was the counter ability. If a person used a punch/kick and you countered correctly, your character would catch the opponent and counter attack. It was extremely satisfying when I was fighting friends.
Dead or Alive 2 was a fun fighting game and a direct port of the arcade version. Developers Team Ninja would go on to release sequels for later consoles. I ended up buying Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Ultimate for the XBox. For some reason, I wasn’t as good at the later games. The combination of a Dreamcast controller and Dead or Alive 2 is an essential ingredient for my fighting skills, I suppose. (Or I am just terrible at fighting games)
Resident Evil: Code Veronica
US Release Date: February 29, 2000
Have you ever had a game where you enjoyed watching someone else play it? Resident Evil: Code Veronica was that game for me. I remember Capcom mentioning that this version of RE used less than 50% of the Dreamcast’s potential. The graphics were very dark and had a spooky atmosphere, I was nervous to walk around buildings for fear of suddenly being attacked.
I often brought my game over to my friend’s house and we’d play upstairs in his game room all day and night. My friend was really good at it, and I just loved to watch and offer commentary.
US Release Date: August 8, 2000
Where to start with this game…that is, if you can even call it a game. Seaman is a more of a virtual pet-type of simulation. However, it was very interesting and made for quite a different experience. The game came with a microphone that plugged into the controller. Players would talk to the Seaman creature and he would remember things and have conversations based on the players’ answers.
I fired up my copy of Seaman, anxious to see what wacky things could happen from talking to a fish with a human head.
The game started out with just an empty aquarium. I had to release eggs into the water and let them sit there. I had to wait and wait for those things to hatch and give birth to the strange Seaman creatures. However, I don’t think they could speak yet. They had to evolve a bit more before they started conversing with you. Eventually, only one creature survived and started evolving into Seaman.
This game turned out to be the kind that I played for maybe 10 to 20 minutes a day. You could only do so much with the Seaman creature per day, or so everyone thought until someone discovered that changing the date in the Dreamcast system settings allowed players to fast forward and generate a new day more quickly.
Fun little things I remember:
If you put the Seaman disc into a regular CD player, Seaman would start talking. I think he said something about putting the disc into a Sega Dreamcast before something bad happens.
I also had fun bringing up the words “Dreamcast”, “Playstation 2”, and “Dolphin” with my creature. Seaman responded negatively when I mentioned Playstation 2. He also was able to say something about “Nintendo Dolphin” which at the time, was Nintendo’s codename for the Gamecube.
I played this for about a month before I reached what I would consider “the end” of the game. My Seaman creature evolved and I released him into the wild. Don’t worry, though. My Seaman would explore but would always return if I came calling. To this day, I’m sure I could boot up my Dreamcast, load my game, and go visit him. I wonder what he’s been up to since the year 2000… I’m sure we’d have quite a lot to talk about.
Jet Grind Radio
US Release Date: November 1, 2000
This was the world’s first major cell shaded game. Go Sega! I remember buying this game because I played the demo that came with the monthly demo disc included in the Official Dreamcast Magazine.
This game was a lot of fun, but sometimes frustrating. The goal was to go around in each level spraying graffiti on new areas or covering the graffiti of rivals.
The music made this game a blast to play. It had all the right tunes to keep a player upbeat. There were also options in the game to create your own graffiti! Players could make their own and share it online via the Jet Grind Radio Internet mode.
There was later a remake/sequel for the XBox. I bought it, but it didn’t feel quite the same as the Dreamcast version. it must be that Dreamcast magic!
US Release Date: November 6, 2000
I remember when I first heard about Shenmue. I saw a trailer for it on a Dreamcast Magazine demo disc. This trailer introduced everyone into the world of 1980s Japan. The graphics were unlike anything I had ever seen. I remember reading online about all the work and details that had gone into making Shenmue. I’m not going to repeat the entire story/plot, but it involves Ryo Hazuki (the player), seeking revenge for the murder of his father.
The developers promoted Shenmue as a game that was FREE (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment). There was a weather system, and something around 100 characters that all had their own daily schedules.
Shenmue was a story-driven game, but you also had the option of exploring and killing time with mini-games. I remember walking around the area known as Dobuita admiring the sights. This was the most detailed game I’ve ever played. Everything was designed to scale.
Trivia: Shenmue (and resources for its sequels) reportedly cost $70 million to develop.
Many people are divided by this game. Either you appreciate it for what it is, or you don’t like it because you consider it boring. I’m a big supporter of this game, but I understand why some people may not like it.
Another great thing about Shenmue was its original music. For every area or building you entered, it had its own original theme. To this day, I have the collections of music from Shenmue I and Shenmue II in my music library. The orchestrated theme of Shenmue is enough to make all Shenmue fans nostalgic.
Note: I have a separate post that explains more about my passion for Shenmue in “Why Shenmue is a Cult Classic”
Quake III: Arena
US Release Date: October 21, 2000
I’m not sure why exactly I purchased this game, but one thing that comes to mind is that Quake III was the first game on the Dreamcast to support the broadband adapter. By this time, I had moved from dial-up Internet to broadband. When Sega announced an add-on broadband adapter to replace the 56k modem in the Dreamcast, I knew I had to get it so that I could be prepared for future online games! Quake III performed extremely well on the with my broadband adapter. I remember being absolutely shocked that the people I were playing against were all human. The game was so fast paced, I couldn’t believe that the fast movements in the game were transmitted so smoothly over the Internet.
Quake III was an OK game, but I really bought it to experiment with my broadband adapter. The reason I bought the broadband adapter was because of an upcoming game known as Phantasy Star Online.
Phantasy Star Online
US Release Date: January 29, 2001
I mentioned that I had bought the Dreamcast broadband adapter to use my high speed Internet connection instead of a dial-up modem for online games. Phantasy Star Online was what I had in mind. However, Sega betrayed the trust of its customers. Phantasy Star Online had already been released in Japan and supported the broadband adapter. When Phantasy Star Online was released in the US, Sega removed adapter support! That meant players were forced to use dial-up to play the game. Many people were not happy about this that had purchased the adapter assuming they’d use it to play this game, myself included.
Some time after this people figured out how to make the Dreamcast run unlicensed code off burned CDs. I managed to download the Japanese Dreamcast web browser to my computer and burn it to a CD. I had read online that once you have saved data from this web browser on your memory card, the US version of Phantasy Star Online would work properly with the broadband adapter. Haha! I was on top of the world when I got this working!
I was introduced to Phantasy Star Online by a trailer from the Internet. It promised a world inside your Dreamcast that you could access once you connected to the Internet. An ever-growing world that you could do whatever you want, whenever you want. Ok, so that’s what Sega wanted you to believe.
Here’s the original video for those interested:
Regardless of the unfulfillable promises and extreme hype, PSO was a really fun game. What really brought me into the game was the great soundtrack and smooth, futuristic graphics.
A really cool feature from PSO that I thought was innovative was the phrase creation feature. This allowed people to create sentences that would automatically be translated into the language of the receiver. In other words, if your game was the Japanese version, custom phrases would appear in Japanese.
I spent hundreds of hours playing this game. I had friends that played the game offline without ever playing it connected to the Internet. Let’s just say that is a very depressing experience. The most fun is playing online and connecting with people.
I remember playing PSO for the first time on launch day. I had to create my character and I chose a HUmar which is the hand to hand combat type of character. Once I was in the gaming lobby and went into a gaming session, I teleported into the first level, known as Forest (the developers were really creative in coming up with that level name). Everything from the level design to the music blew me away. Of course, after playing this level over a thousand times, I probably don’t appreciate it as much as I first did. But that’s all right! I have the soundtrack from the game in my music library. I sometimes think back to my fond memories of playing this game into the early morning when I listen to the music.
Sega eventually released version 2 of this game in the US, but there was one big issue: Pay to play.
The first version of PSO was free for people in the US to play online, which was a big plus in getting people familiar with this new franchise.
Eventually Sega released updated versions for the Gamecube and eventually the XBox and PC. I don’t think these versions were as successful as the original version on the Dreamcast.
Years down the road, Sega came out with a new series called “Phantasy Star Universe”. I played the offline game, and it was an average experience. I never played the online part, so I probably missed out on the fun. However, nothing excites me like the original PSO.
Even though the original game servers for the game are gone, you can still play online using private servers. There are groups of people that continue playing the Dreamcast/Gamecube and PC versions of the game. If you want to play PSO with others online for free, I suggest checking out the PSO subreddit where you can find private servers and play together with people online.
Sonic Adventure 2
US Release Date: June 18, 2001
Since I loved Sonic Adventure, I couldn’t wait for Sonic Adventure 2!
Once people figured out how to get the Dreamcast to run code from burned CD-Rs, one of the things I managed to do was download the Sonic Adventure 2 demo to my computer. After many wasted CD-Rs, I managed to get one that finally worked on my Dreamcast! This was another wonderful moment. I’m not sure if the demo was Japanese or not, but the US wouldn’t get the official demo until Phantasy Star Online launched which came with it.
In the end, I got to play the Sonic Adventure 2 demo and it was really awesome. The graphics were even better than the first game. The music was instrumental which worked well with the one level I got to play, which was many, many times. When I played the demo that came with Phantasy Star Online, I noticed the music had vocals and had changed for the worse. Oh well, a minor complaint.
There was a big hyped release for Sonic Adventure 2. I remember checking out IGN for small video clips of the game.
When I brought the game home, I must have played it for hours with my friend. However, something terrible happened. There was a bug in the game where sometimes the game wouldn’t save correctly. One horrible day, after I shut off my Dreamcast I found out that all my work had been lost. I was devastated. I had to grumpily replay the game to get back to where I originally stopped.
Sonic Adventure 2 had better graphics than the first game, but a major complaint by nearly everyone is the player being forced to play with characters other than Sonic. Their gameplay modes were just boring and uninspiring.
I still look fondly back at the first Sonic Adventure. It is very rare that I even remember playing Sonic Adventure 2 with the exception of my memory of playing the demo.
Ever since Sonic Adventure 2, the Sonic games have gotten worse in my opinion. Sonic used to be cooler than Mario. His games stood for speed and fun. With the recent Sonic games, I don’t see what originally made me fall in love with the Sonic games on the Megadrive/Genesis.
Japanese Release Date: September 6, 2001
US Release Date on XBox: October 28, 2002
I was really looking forward to this game…until Sega made a horrible decision. Sega announced that it would NOT be releasing Shenmue II in the US, but still release it in Europe and Japan.
American gamers would not get their hands on Shenmue II until Microsoft ported Shenmue II over to the XBox and released it in 2002.
Shenmue II started where the first game left off. The main character Ryo Hazuki arrived in Hong Kong. And let me just say that Shenmue II is at least four times as huge as the original game. I got lost very easily trying to find my way through the various areas.
Yu Suzuki, the creator of Shenmue, is known for his love of Chinese culture. I was never interested in anything related to China, but Shenmue II certainly changed my mind. I could feel Yu Suzuki’s passion for China as I played this game.
Shenmue II is one of the greatest gaming tragedies in gaming history and I’ll explain why. Shenmue II ends on a major cliffhanger and Sega has yet to release a Shenmue III. The major appeal of Shenmue was its environment, characters, and story. People all over the world are waiting for the conclusion to this epic story.
Update: In 2015 Shenmue III was announced on Kickstarter.
There is a scene in Shenmue II that is so unique that I don’t think I’ve ever had the same experience in any other game. It involves the main character and someone else walking through a forest. You’re just walking through a forest and talking. There is no surprise or jumping out bad guys to ruin it. Maybe I’m alone in appreciating that scene, but it will always stick with me.
I wish Sega would rerelease Shenmue for newer consoles so that people without a Dreamcast could experience the magic that I experienced so many years ago.
Trailer for the Dreamcast version:
Well, that’s it for my nostalgic train ride. I hope someone out there was able to learn something or remember something from their past by reading my Dreamcast retrospective. May the Dreamcast live on forever in gaming history.